2012-13 Ohio State Buckeyes College Basketball PreviewHead Coach: Thad Matta
2011-12: 31-8 (13-5 Big Ten), lost to Kansas in Final Four
Odds to win 2013 NCAA Title: 20/1
Thad Matta has a tough task before him, as Jared Sullinger and William Buford both departed, and he hasn’t found a suitable replacement for either. The Buckeyes also have only one senior on the roster.
But can they make waves with an inexperienced team? They can. Aaron Craft is a legitimate point guard and the best on-ball defender in the country. He is a game changer, without putting up gaudy stats. Craft averaged 8.8 points per game and 4.6 assists per game, but his impact went far beyond that on both ends of the court. He should lead the Big Ten in both assists and steals, and his backup, Shannon Scott, should be adequate when he needs a rest.
Lenzelle Smith, Jr. will continue to build on the success and heroics of last year’s win over Syracuse that put the Buckeyes in the Final Four. He’s a good outside threat for the Buckeyes and averaged 6.8 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game last year as a sophomore.
They’ve also brought in an Italian shooter Amedeo Della Valle, who should be a big lift off the bench with his three point capabilities.
Sullinger is going to be missed greatly, and it takes away the Buckeyes’ only go-to threat. DeShaun Thomas will have to have a huge year to replace Sullinger. Matta likes the chances of that happening, though. “Deshaun knows there are things he has to do to help our basketball team and things he has to get better at to help us win,” Matta said.
Thomas put up huge numbers last year as a sophomore, averaging 15.9 points per game and 5.4 rebounds per game, while hitting 34.5 percent from downtown. He could potentially average 20+ points per game, and if the Buckeyes are to be legit threats in the postseason, he will have to.
Amir Williams will take over at center this year as a sophomore. Standing 6’11″ and weighing in at 250, he still needs to add a little bulk, but should be able to bang with the bigger guys in the Big Ten, and will provide a reliable interior threat defensively. The Buckeyes will need it against Indiana and Cody Zeller, but for all the talent Williams has, he is still inexperienced. He’s improved, but the road ahead for him is still tough before he can rightly be considered one of the best big men in the nation.
LaQuinton Ross is going to be the starting small forward and he’s a good shooter and has good length at 6’8″ He should be able to become a good defensive player given his skill set and athleticism, and Sam Thompson will see some minutes backing him up. Trey McDonald will likely still struggle to find playing time as a sophomore who averaged just three minutes per game last year for the Buckeyes.
“Anytime you lose great players you’ve got to redefine roles and you’ve got to get guys to have an appreciation for their role,” Matta said.
Whether the Buckeyes can redefine their team in the wake of Sullinger’s departure will be the question for OSU this year. They have some talent, but it likely won’t be enough to carry them back to the Final Four. Athlon magazine predicts an Elite Eight appearance, and that likely seems to be about the ceiling for a team that is going to struggle initially to find scoring. Again, Thomas will need to be that answer for this team, and they’ll likely go as far as he can carry them.